In a new study published in Current Psychology, researchers found that men with higher narcissism levels reported using more strategies to improve their own and others’ emotions compared to female narcissists. The findings shed light on how gender influences the relationship between pathological narcissism and emotion regulation strategies.
Emotion regulation is a process in which one aims to initiate, maintain, modulate, or change the course of feelings. Individuals who regulate their affective states use tactics such as intrinsic and extrinsic affect-worsening and affect-improving strategies. Intrinsic strategies involve attempting to control one’s own affective state whereas extrinsic strategies involve striving to alter others’ affective states.
Researchers Michael Barnett, Kessie Mollenlxopf, and Ashley Haygood conducted this study to better understand how gender influences the relationship between pathological narcissism and emotion regulation strategies. Previous research had shown that narcissism, which involves an inflated sense of self and a lack of intimacy with others, is associated with certain emotion regulation strategies. It was unclear how gender might moderate these relationships.
To conduct the study, the researchers collected data from 1,344 college students (66% female) aged 18 to 29 who were enrolled in a psychology course at a large public university in the southern United States. All participants filled out the Pathological Narcissism Inventory and the Emotion Regulation of Others and Self questionnaire.
The Emotion Regulation of Self and Others measured four different ways that individuals manage and change their emotional states, either for themselves or for others.
Intrinsic Affect-Improving: This strategy involves individuals intentionally trying to improve their own emotions. When someone is feeling down or sad, they engage in activities or thoughts that aim to lift their spirits and make themselves feel better. For example, they might listen to uplifting music, practice positive self-talk, or engage in activities that bring joy and happiness.
Intrinsic Affect-Worsening: In this strategy, individuals deliberately focus on negative aspects of their emotions or situation to make themselves feel worse. It’s a self-destructive approach to emotion regulation, where a person might ruminate on their shortcomings or past failures, leading to a deepening of negative emotions.
Extrinsic Affect-Improving: Extrinsic emotion regulation involves individuals attempting to improve the emotions of others. When someone around them is feeling down or upset, they take actions to cheer them up or provide comfort and support. For instance, they might offer kind words, spend time with the person, or engage in activities to make them feel better.
Extrinsic Affect-Worsening: This strategy involves individuals intentionally trying to make others feel worse emotionally. They might act annoyed, criticize, or intentionally provoke negative emotions in others. It’s a harmful and manipulative approach to emotion regulation that can lead to interpersonal conflicts and damaged relationships.
The researchers found that pathological narcissism was associated with greater use of strategies intended to improve one’s own mood (intrinsic affect-improving strategies). This suggests that narcissistic individuals may try to regulate their emotions by focusing on positive ways to make themselves feel better.
Pathological narcissism was also associated with greater use of strategies intended to make others feel better (extrinsic affect-improving strategies). However, it is unclear whether narcissists are genuinely trying to make others feel better or if this is related to their grandiose fantasies and desire for admiration.
Importantly, results from this study showed that gender played a moderating role in these relationships. On average, narcissistic men tended to use intrinsic affect-improving emotion regulation strategies more often than narcissistic women.
“Male narcissists may be particularly likely to use emotion regulation strategies that improve their own and others’ affect (or at least they believe that they are doing this) and, conversely, female narcissists may use affect-improving emotion regulation strategies more rarely,” the researchers wrote. “This may explain why male narcissists tend to have better mental health outcomes than female narcissists.”
“Male narcissists, viewing themselves as improving the way that they and others feel, may have less incentive to change compared to female narcissists,” they added. “Narcissism may simply ‘feel better’ for men, possibly reflecting that narcissism is more closely associated with traditionally masculine gender roles
However, the study had some limitations, such as the use of a college student sample, which may not represent the general population, and the correlational nature of the data, which prevents drawing definitive causal conclusions.
Future research should explore these relationships further and consider other factors that could influence emotion regulation in narcissism, such as socially desirable responding and gender role adherence. Understanding these unique presentations of narcissism in men and women could lead to more informed clinical diagnosis and improved treatment outcomes.
The study, “Gender moderates relationships between pathological narcissism and intrinsic-extrinsic emotion regulation strategies“, was authored by Michael D. Barnett, Kessie K. Mollenkopf, and Ashley N. Haygood.